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Friday, December 1, 2006

Gifts For Globetrotting Photographers

Start dropping those hints for these cool traveler's photo toys

Book ‘Em, Dano!

It's the time of year when someone in your household may be looking for a good but reasonable gift idea for you, the family's "visual artist" (as I insist on being called). Assuming you've been good (you've been good, right?) and not naughty, the following nifty items for traveling photographers are really cool, but won't break the bank.

Into Each Life...

...a little rain must fall. Maybe it's just me, but I seem to be drawn to moist, rainy climates, and what's worse, I often like to shoot in those conditions, too. For a traveling photographer, rain protection has traditionally presented a special problem: the excellent, commercially available camera raincoats are so big and heavy that they almost outweigh the gear they're supposed to protect. That's because they're designed primarily for the massive teles used by sports and wildlife shooters (two other types of photographers who have the good sense not to stop shooting when the rain begins). That left us traveling photographers with the other extreme: flimsy plastic-baggie or shower-cap protection. It's lightweight, yes, crude even, but alas, rarely effective.

Enter the whimsically named Shutter Hat. Designed by Maryland-based photographer Ferrell McCollough, it's an ingenious, adaptable camera raincoat that folds up to about the size of a deck of cards. Through clever use of Velcro® and a tab that slides into the hot-shoe, it keeps the cover seated perfectly, so the viewfinder is accessible, but the camera is protected.

It's sized to protect any D-SLR mounted with a lens up to about a 70-200mm ƒ/2.8, but also adapts well to shorter zooms. There's a longer-lens version coming, which may be called the "Ten-Gallon Shutter Hat," for the long-telephoto crowd. But the current version is convenient to have with you at all times because it weighs next to nothing, even with its carrying case and an enclosed microfiber cleaning cloth (for those pesky raindrops that may find their way to your lens). It's a breeze to stash in a tiny corner of your bag or vest. At $39, it's a small price to pay for protecting your expensive gear and opening yourself up to the wild, wet world of rainy-day photography (www.shutterhat.com).

Camera Support Gone Ape
Earlier this year, OP readers were introduced to the Gorillapod from Joby, another ingenious design. Basically, it's a mini-tripod with flexible plastic legs made up of interconnected ball and socket joints, and it looks like a robotic spider creature. The original Gorillapod was designed for small point-and-shoot cameras. As soon as I saw the design, I had to have one, and I wished for a larger, more robust version.

The Gorillapod SLR is just that. It's at least twice as big and will support most medium-sized D-SLRs (rumor has it, a Gorillapod SLR Pro version is in the works, which will allow you to add your own favorite small ballhead to the legs). The Gorillapod excels at securing a camera (or a strobe) to previously impossible surfaces, such as a tree branch or a chair back, thanks to the grippy wraparound legs.

It comes with its own proprietary ballhead and quick-release system, and extra plates are available (the Pro version will allow you to use the QR system of your choice). I'm finding the Gorillapod SLR to be superb for placing strobes like the Nikon SB-800 in wireless, multiflash setups.

Recently, I was shooting a room interior and hung one of my flashes upside down from the paddle of a ceiling fan (it was off, mind you!) using the Gorillapod SLR—no lightstand, no fuss. I've also been able to place lights on doorjambs and even (on a bet) wrapped around a wine bottle at a dinner table. The Gorillapod lets you feel like Captain Kirk himself—boldly (but carefully, please) putting cameras and lights where none have gone before ($49, www.joby.com).


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